With Tuesday’s news that a made-for-TV movie about the Casey Anthony murder trial is set to premiere on the Lifetime network (NYSE: DIS) early next year, some questions have arisen about whether Anthony herself will profit from the project. The short answer is, not directly, but the jury is still out on whether she will eventually cash in on the murder case/media circus that made her infamous.
Based on Jeff Ashton’s book “Imperfect Justice,” Lifetime’s “Prosecuting Casey Anthony” will star Rob Lowe as Ashton, the Florida attorney who unsuccessfully prosecuted Anthony for the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in 2011. The story is being told from Ashton’s point of view, with Anthony appearing as a relatively minor character. Anthony is being portrayed by newcomer Virginia Welch.
Casey Anthony was arrested in Dec. 2008 after her daughter went missing in Orlando, but the 22-year-old single mother was later acquitted in a judgment that defied overwhelming public opinion regarding her guilt. In a June poll by the New York Post, Anthony was voted the most hated person in America.
Public opinion notwithstanding, she is now legally allowed to cash in on her story. The so-called Son of Sam law, which prohibits criminals from profiting from their crimes, has been on the books since the late 1970s. (The law was named for the convicted serial killer David Berkowitz, who was rumored to have been courted by book publishers at the time of his sentencing.) But as Anthony was not convicted, there are no legal obstacles to prevent her from cashing in.
Public-relations obstacles, however, are another story. Many legal experts and public-relations professionals have already speculated that no media company would risk negative backlash by compensating the most hated woman in America with a book or movie deal. “Some people may not want to touch her because they think she has a little girl's blood on her hands,” legal analyst Susan Filan told ABC News last year.
Such hesitation may be a case of learning from the past. Years after O.J. Simpson was acquitted for the murder of his wife, the fallen football hero received a reported $1 million publishing advance for his tauntingly-titled book “If I Did It.” But a massive public backlash forced publisher HarperCollins to cancel the project shortly before its publication. In a statement, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of HarperCollins owner News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA), admitted that the book was an “ill-considered project.”
As for “Prosecuting Casey Anthony,” Jeff Ashton has already vehemently insisted that Anthony, whom he referred to as “that evil woman,” will not cash in on his book or the Lifetime TV movie. “I want to clarify a misconception about the book and the movie,” he said in a June Facebook post, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “Casey Anthony will not profit in any way from either period!”
This is not to say that Anthony will never profit from the trial. The Lifetime movie, the first dramatized account of the trial, could serve as a kind of litmus test for the American public’s willingness to accept Anthony’s story as simply another form of scripted entertainment.